Originally a comment by A Masked Avenger on The art of the question.
M. A. Melby @11:
As a recovering fundie, I can tell you that there’s only one answer to a question that ends with, “…yes or no?”, and that’s “Fuck you.”
Lawyers get to say “…yes or no?” because you’re compelled by the court to answer. You’ll go to jail for contempt if you don’t. And you’ll face contempt if you answer a yes/no question with a question, or a long answer, or a non-response. [Unfortunately] the lawyer is allowed to make such demands, because they are empowered to compel a response, and to punish you for your refusal.
Inquisitors get to say “…yes or no?” for the same reason: an inquisitor is a prosecutor, generally in a religious court, and can have you tortured or executed not only for giving the wrong answer, but for refusing to answer.
Back in fundie-land, I’ve been asked [and, to my shame, I’ve asked] these “…yes or no?” questions. The asker does it because they think they’re an inquisitor. Their intention is to either force compliance with some norm, or to identify you as an outsider as a prelude to punishing or expelling you from the community. They have the power to do that. Sometimes because they’re actual gatekeepers, like church rulers. More often because the social group stigmatizes the wrong answer to such an extent that it doesn’t matter how an answer is extracted from you; once you fail to say “shibboleth” correctly, you’re a heathen, infidel, outsider, unperson.
I find it hilarious–but in a sad way–to see “rational” or “freethinking” people set themselves up as inquisitors. It’s a healthy reminder that religion is just a well-adapted vehicle for delivering the toxin, and human nature is its source. The need to cement our “we” status by inflicting “they” status on someone else. I.e., self-righteousness. The inability to care for “us” without simultaneously hating “them.” Etc, etc.
“Yes or no?” Fuck you is my answer. Even if I agree with you, still fuck you.
Brony, Social Justice Cenobite says
Whatever else happens from here, this situation has given me an education on how other people see “xxxx xxxx xxxxxx ,yes or no?”.
From my privileged perch I see the answers as a simple emotional impression of a complex chain of thought and/or conversation that can always be unpacked. “Yes” and “No” are always connected to lots of things that get a person there. I am less familiar with how other people try manipulate by seeking a yes or no so I have not had a reason to distrust them. I have a lot to think about.
Marcus Ranum says
In fairness, the socratic method depends on getting your interlocutor to adopt a fixed position.
Asking yes or no questions is a good way of achieving understanding.
Does that make sense? (Yes or no is implied)
John Morales says
I decided not to respond to this in the original thread because I thought it might be a derail, but since it’s been elevated to post status, I can’t resist twice.
I think you’ve been watching too many bad legal dramas, where the lawyer rants “answer the question, yes or no!” while opposing counsel and the judge sit there like potted plants, and the witness then breaks down and confesses.
In reality, lawyers don’t get to dictate a witness’s answer. If an answer is truly non-responsive to the question, you can move the court to strike it as non-responsive and ask again, and if the witness persists, then yes, you can ask the judge to admonish the witness and order him or her to provide an appropriate response.
But judges aren’t just rubber stamps, and for all its faults, the legal system is well aware that “yes or no” questions are often inappropriate and objectionable.
Anyway, I know that the commenter’s basic point is that demanding a “yes or no” answer is a power play that is pathetic and laughable when it comes from someone who doesn’t have the power to back it up. I’m just pointing out that the situations where that power exists are even rarer than the comment supposes.
A Masked Avenger says
Screechymonkey, thanks for that.
A Masked Avenger says
I’m not a fan of the Socratic method in general. By my reading of Plato, Socrates’ interlocutors were generally pretty transparent foils who swallowed his questions whole and gave the expected answers. In practice, Socratic debate is a nightmare in which each party sees the other’s traps a mile off, and spends all the time wrangling over the terms of the question.
It’s an OK teaching method when the pupil trusts the teacher and is prepared to follow wherever they lead. My thesis advisor used it with me. Even there, large inequality is needed. When I tried it with my spouse (with the best intentions, I swear!) I learned quick not to do that.
Ophelia Benson says
A comment by Mya Riemer on my Facebook wall which she gave me permish to quote:
Ophelia Benson #7,
I understand that we can no longer assume someone is endorsing a comment they are reproducing, but I’m surprised you’re quoting a comment that, in itself, endorses such relativism. I am given to understand you normally regard “pomo” things as wishy-washy (sometimes consciously and deliberately so, to elide Uncomfortable or Politically Incorrect Truths) and beyond the pale*. Has something changed?
*For the purposes of full disclosure, I do not distrust post-modern theory in the slightest (but then again, I’ve studied it)
Lady Mondegreen says
Pointing out that words are human constructs, that definitions are frequently blurry and meanings change, and that terms need to be defined in order for constructive discussion to take place, is PoMo now? Nobody noticed these things before the postmodernists came along?
(I guess Voltaire was a postmodernist. Who knew.)
I find the phrase, “What do you mean?”, works pretty well. and particularly when someone is asking a loaded question. Demanding expansion of an idea usually unravels the load.
Ibis3, These verbal jackboots were made for walking says
Their intention is to either force compliance with some norm, or to identify you as an outsider as a prelude to punishing or expelling you from the community.
You seem to be implying this is always a bad thing to do. I think there are norms that should be complied with and for which outsiders ought to be shunned or expelled or what have you. For example, take the question “Do you think Michael Shermer should be given a platform to speak at sceptic conferences, yes or no?” Should you answer yes to that question, that tells me all I need to know about whether I want to have anything to do with you. Likewise, “Do you support a woman’s right to choose whether or not to abort a pregnancy?” or “Do you oppose torture?” or “Do you think slavery is ever okay?”. Or are you saying that freethinking is incompatible with having moral principles?
Pierce R. Butler says
Ibis3… @ # 11 – All of your proposed questions assume a reasonable degree of factual awareness on the part of the interrogatee.
A well-meaning person unaware of Shermer’s sleazy antics, or provided only with the False Noise framing of abortion, torture, or even slavery, may still retain the ability to learn better.
For those who do have a better grip on the facts, of course your inclination to leave or run them off makes perfect sense.